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Pioneers Able to Forge Into New Territory

Division I-A: Simi Valley boys beat Rancho Verde, 77-58, to advance to final against Mater Dei.


PERRIS — Simi Valley High will get another shot at Mater Dei.

The Pioneers saw to that Tuesday night with a resounding 77-58 victory over Moreno Valley Rancho Verde in a Southern Section Division I-A boys' basketball semifinal at Perris High.

The victory was the 17th in a row for Simi Valley (28-2) and sets up a showdown against defending champion Mater Dei in the championship game at The Pond in Anaheim on Saturday night.

Mater Dei, the No. 1-seeded team, defeated No. 3 Simi Valley in a I-A semifinal last year and in a first-round game of the Torrey Pines tournament in Encinitas in December, but the Pioneers have been hoping for a rematch since.

They got it Tuesday by weathering an 18-point third quarter by junior guard J.S. Nash of Rancho Verde and then shutting him out in the fourth quarter.

"I'm just so proud of our guys for hanging in there," first-year Coach Christian Aurand said. "It's been a roller-coaster ride. Give them credit for staying focused and not losing sight of their goal."

Simi Valley, which plays in its first section title game since 1993, suffered through a tumultuous regular season that ended with starting point guard Shaun Michel quitting the team before the last Marmonte League game after walking out at halftime of the previous game and being suspended for five other contests.

Rancho Verde (20-12), which had made a Cinderella-like run to the semifinals after finishing third in the Sunbelt League, cut a 12-point deficit to 51-48 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. But Simi Valley scored the next nine points and the Mustangs never got closer than nine points after that.

Ryan Bradshaw scored on a layup off an assist from Anish Sharda to give Simi Valley a 53-48 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Branduinn Fullove's three-point play gave the Pioneers a 56-48 lead with 7:19 left in the game and Dustin Villepigue followed with a couple of baskets inside to give Simi Valley a 60-48 advantage with 5:57 remaining.

"We weren't too concerned," Fullove said of Rancho Verde's 12-3 run near the end of the third quarter. "We knew that they would have some runs."

Fullove, a four-year starter who has signed with UC Santa Barbara, had 21 points and 10 rebounds to help Simi Valley advance to the title game after being eliminated in the I-AA quarterfinals in 1997, the I-AA semifinals in 1998 and the I-A semifinals last year.

Villepigue, a 6-9 junior center, had 23 points and 12 rebounds after scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a quarterfinal victory last Friday.

Brett Michel, another four-year starter , struggled with his shooting, but had 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

"It's huge," Michel said of getting to a final. "I mean, we want to win it now that we're there. Now that we can talk about winning it."

Sharda had 13 points and nine assists for Simi Valley, which held Nash to 27 points, 11 below his playoff average.

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